My Reaction to the 2/13/19 Nintendo Direct

What a difference 35 minutes can make.

Going into this Direct, the game I was most looking forward to this year was Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn. Sure, Pokémon and Animal Crossing had been announced for sometime this year, but with no gameplay to generate buzz, the year didn’t look all that exciting yet.

For its part, Nintendo seemed to be operating with a lot of confidence as the year began. Where once the company would dump half-baked titles like Mario Tennis Ultra Smash onto the market just to have something to sell, the Big N now was taking the incredible step of scrapping two years worth of Metroid Prime 4 development because the game wasn’t meeting their expectations. Where once they jumped at the chance to remind gamers that they were still around with Directs and other presentations, Nintendo was suddenly operating like a company that knew everybody knew their name, and could put out a presentation on their own darn schedule.

And then they dropped a Direct the day before Valentine’s Day…and showed that their confidence was well-founded.

Nintendo was dropping bombs from the word go, showing off Triple AAA blockbusters, unexpected surprises, and more RPGs than you could shake a stick at in yesterday’s presentation. It was solid from start to finish, and seemed to have something for everyone (except Animal Crossing fans…sorry gang). Instead of rehashing every game shown off in the Direct, I’m going to change things up a bit and just hit the highlights and some of the interesting tidbits that struck me.

  • With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate out, Super Mario Maker was about the only reason to use your Wii U anymore…and Nintendo drove the final nail into its coffin right from the start, opening with its announcement of Super Mario Maker 2. (When the trailer started and the Super Mario World theme appeared, I thought “Is it Mario Maker…or SNES games for the Switch?”) This has basically everything people were asking for and them some: Slopes, vertical levels (and even diagonal scrolling), angry suns, water in non-underwater themes (and more themes total, like ice and forest), more enemies and mini-bosses, more characters (Luigi, Toad, and…Toadette?), and on and on and on. I was really surprised by the amount of Super Mario 3D World content that was included (including the cat suit!), which was a nice nod to a game that’s been mostly forgotten in the wake of Super Mario Odyssey. Nintendo went right for the jugular for this Direct, and Super Mario Maker 2 was a great way to open the show.
  • Co-op play turned out to be a running theme, which makes complete sense given the Switch’s focus on local multiplayer. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker got a new co-op mode, Box Boy got a new co-op mode, Dragon Quest Builders highlighted its co-op mode, Yoshi’s Crafted World showed off its co-op mode briefly…even Unravel talked up its co-op mode! (Super Mario Maker 2 didn’t mention co-op specifically, but come on: They’ve got a bunch of new playable characters, all of which are drawn from New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. I guarantee it’s got local co-op.) Nintendo is all-in on bringing people together with the Switch, and with games like these, they can definitely make it happen.
  • RPGs turned out to be a huge part of this presentation as well: In addition to big announcements like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy VII, we also got announcements from Rune Factor 4 and a logo/reveal for Rune Factor 5 (nice try, but it’s not quite the same as Metroid Prime 4), as well as trailers for Oninaki, Deltarune, and of course Fire Emblem: Three Houses. This indicates that publishers are starting to view the North American market are more receptive to these kinds of games, and also that games like Octopath Traveler exceeded initial expectations. Either way, I am totally on board with this.
  • Older versions of popular titles continue to flood the Switch, with Dead By DaylightAssassin’s Creed 3 Remastered, and HellBlade: Senua’s Sacrifice leading the pack this time around (FF7 qualifies as well). Sadly, older versions of Nintendo titles continue to be meted out in drips and drops (no SNES games yet…)
  • Aside from Yoshi’s Crafted World, Nintendo left many of its already-announced 2019 titles (Pokémon, Animal Crossing, and even less-heralded games like Town) on the shelf this time around. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was only teased, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker got some time for a small update (seriously though, I was done with that game three years ago, why is it still a thing?). For now, Nintendo appears to be content with riding the success of its already-released lineup, and when said lineup includes Piranha Plants fighting Persona 5 characters, who can blame them?
  • I’m really not sure what to make of Astral Chain yet. The trailer felt better suited to a move than a game, and the chained-together combat looked a little intimidating to me (although the two-character setup might be another opportunity for co-op play). For a game that got a prime slot near the end of the Direct, the overall reaction to it seems a bit muted compared to other games.
  • Speaking of muted reactions: Am I only one who yawned at the Link’s Awakening remake? I know there are a lot of people who are super excited about this game, but as a casual Zelda fan who doesn’t even remember the series coming to the Game Boy, I really didn’t get what all the fuss was about. This falls into the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate category for me: Well-designed and sure to be loved by many, but I’ll probably skip it.

While I’m sure that millions of network packets will be spent on what wasn’t talked about during the Direct, I want to drop a bold prediction on you: This Direct was basically an announcement that the Switch Mini is real and is on its way. Here’s my thinking:

  • The 3DS always got a fair bit of mention is Directs from the recent past, but it got absolutely zero representation here, indicating the Nintendo is moving on from its aging handheld.
  • However, Nintendo continues to insist that the 3DS is a big part of their business strategy going forward, even as sales are slipping. They’re not ready to give up their new-player and younger-player markets just yet.
  • A month ago, I declared that I would be okay with letting the 3DS go if Nintendo would “release a 3DS-like version of the Switch.” Doing so would allow the Big N to transition away from the older system while still keeping a foothold in the new/younger-gamer markets.

Put it all together, and all signs point to Nintendo replacing the 3DS with some sort of entry-level Switch that can play the same role, and making that “switch” sometime soon.

For now, however, we’re left with one of the stronger Nintendo Directs in recent memory, with something in it for nearly everyone to enjoy. When once I was feeling kind of “meh” about Nintendo’s 2019, I’m back aboard the hype train today.


The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from Walmart

You may not be able to put a price on luxury, but you can sure as heck put an upper bound on it.

Ever since the days of the Wii Remote, Nintendo has been offering “normal” controller options for people who don’t find their innovative peripherals appealing. Today, that comes in the form of the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, which gives players an alternative to the standard Joy-Cons. At roughly $60, however, this alternative comes with a steep price tag, which begs the question: Is it really worth the investment?

After a few months of hands-on time with the Pro Controller, I’m split on the answer to this question. There are some undoubtable benefits to the controller, but whether or not they meet the bar of their price tag is far less certain.

My specific thoughts on the hardware are as follows:

Durability: This is the main reason I invested in the controller, as over 500 hours of leaning on the Joy-Cons in Splatoon 2 had left me with sticking, unresponsive control sticks. (The left one I expected to fail given the issues Nintendo had experienced, but the failure of the right one was more surprising.) Joy-Cons are expensive in their own right, so I hoped that the Pro Controller would stand up to a bit more pounding.

In my short time with the controller, I’d say “so far, so good”: I’ve had occasional catches while spinning the camera with the right stick, but otherwise the controller has held up fairly well after seven weeks of heavy use. Additionally, it’s stood up to the pounding of being stuffed in bags and crushed by poor packing jobs as I’ve tested the Switch’s mobility. However, that brings up another issue…

Convenience: It’s certainly nice to not have to pull the Joy-Cons off the console and put them back after every play session (you just pick up the Pro Controller and go), and the controller connects to the Switch much faster and more reliably than the Joy-Cons ever did. However, there’s no good way to carry the things around when you’re on the go: The Joy-Cons fit nicely into the Switch’s travel case, while the controller has to be tossed in separately, causing the user to pray to the Mario gods that it doesn’t get damaged in transit every time they go out. The Pro Controller is great for home gaming sessions, but the Joy-Cons have a clear portability advantage (especially since you’ll likely be playing in handheld mode).

Performance: Honestly, I’d call this one a wash: Across all categories (motion controls, stick responsiveness, button inputs), I haven’t noticed any difference at all in how the two controller options perform. When paired together in the Joy-Con grip, the Joy-Cons are indistinguishable from the Pro Controller in terms of how they respond and behave.

Comfort: I never thought I’d say this given the awkward setup of the Joy-Con grip, but I don’t find the Pro Controller and its smooth, familiar design to be any more comfortable. My trigger finger gets just as tired after several hours of Splatoon 2, and whatever ergonomic design they used doesn’t really make a difference. (I will say, however, that I don’t press the D-Pad accidentally nearly as often on the Pro Controller.)

Battery Life: I haven’t exactly stress-tested the Joy-Cons, but in general they offer roughly 20 hours of battery life per charge. The Pro Controller advertises roughly double that time, although my personal experience checks at a bit less that that (I’ve only charged it three times since I started using it, which comes out to about 30-35 hours per charge). While it’s still a sizable upgrade over the Joy-Cons, the truth is that battery life has never really been an issue for me with the Joy-Cons, as I just stick the controllers back onto the Switch at the end of the day as a matter of course. For me, I notice the issue more often with the Pro Controller simply because I don’t plug it in between sessions and occasionally have to wait for it to charge.

So for sixty dollars, you get a more-resilient controller that saves you a few seconds when you pick up and play (but inexplicably can’t be used for Pokémon Let’s Go!). Is it really worth it? It depends on how you use your Switch:

  • If durability and convenience are your biggest concerns (for example, your Switch is used by young children who aren’t known for being gentle on hadrware), then perhaps having that separate controller might be worthwhile.
  • For more-careful gamers, however, the Joy-Cons can do most everything the Pro Controller can, are more portable, and most importantly are already included with the system. These folks can probably get away with saving their money.

Nintendo is already going to soak you for a $300 console and a yearly $20 subscription to take it online. If you can get away without ponying up for a Pro Controller (and I suspect most people can), than by all means do it. As much as I use my Pro Controller, I don’t think there’s enough here to justify its asking price.

So Why Are We Paying For Nintendo Switch Online Services Again?

To quote Ricky Watters: “For who? For what?”

To answer Thomas Middleditch’s question from those annoying Verizon commercials: No, I wouldn’t pay for something I don’t want. So what am I doing giving $20 to Nintendo every year?

Back in September of 2018, Nintendo finally followed through on their threat to charge Switch players for using their online services. Given that Sony and Microsoft had already been soaking their customers for online access for years, such a move was likely inevitable, but Nintendo tried to soften the blow by talking up all the additional benefits an online subscription would provide. The pitch boiled down to five main benefits:

  1. Online play for Switch games
  2. NES games (with new online capabilities) on Switch
  3. Cloud storage for game save data
  4. Use of Nintendo’s smartphone app
  5. Exclusive access to special offers

We’re now four months into Nintendo’s paid online service. How does reality stack up with what the company promised? Let’s address each of these points individually:

  • Online play for Switch games: Since the paid service began, there hasn’t been any noticeable change in Nintendo’s online capabilities. That would be fine if the company had offered a solid, error-minimizing experience beforehand, but as any Splatoon or Smash Bros. player can attest, that was definitely not the case. Not only has Nintendo’s online connectivity not improved, but it seems to be getting worse: Three months after payments started, Smash Bros. Ultimate is released and immediately declared “nearly unplayable” online. Nintendo’s response to this declaration: You should buy more hardware! So not only are we playing to play online, we’re paying even more just to have a tolerable experience. This is unacceptable.I get that other manufacturers have been charging (and charging more) for online services for years, but after over a decade of free play with the Wii, Wii U, 3DS, and even the Switch for a while, charging for the privilege now just begs the question “Why?” It can’t be because they need the money; online play remained free even during the leanest of the Wii U years. If Nintendo dropped some hints about what they were doing with the money (supporting Smash DLC or Splatoon Salmon Run gifts? Buying better backend hardware? Giving hard-working employees a raise?), I might feel a bit better about the whole thing, but they haven’t said a word about it.  Instead, my inner Bernie Sanders is left to scream that the company is just boosting profits to line the pockets of fat-cat shareholders, and the idea irritates me to no end. People often assume the worst when they don’t know the truth, and by remaining tight-lipped about how the money is supporting players’ online experience, Nintendo is leaving us to assume that they’re charging us just because they can.
  • NES games with new online features: The service launched with 20 NES titles available, ranging from the good (Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and my personal favorite, Ice Hockey) to the ‘huh?’ (BaseballPro Wrestling). The company has added a few games every month since September, but the number sits at a paltry 40 today (33 if you don’t count the “SP” releases of games that were already available).I’ve opened the NES app on my Switch twice since the service started, and the buzz surrounding the game has been less “oh boy, classic games on the go!” and more “we’ve kinda played these before.” With no Virtual Console coming and SNES offerings only a datamine discovery and not yet a reality, these 33 games are all we’ve got for retro Nintendo offerings onthe console, and that’s not a sufficient answer if we’re paying a subscription fee to get them.
  • Cloud storage for save game data: This should be a clear and easy win for Nintendo: Allows subscribers to back up their save data to the cloud, and if someone’s Switch goes belly-up, they won’t lose the hundreds of hours they’ve put into Breath of The Wild or Smash Bros. Ultimate! Sounds great, right?Ah, but according to Nintendo, there’s a problem: Cheaters! Why, those slimy save scummers could unjustly preserve their online multiplayer rank or (gasp) get several copies of “rare” legendary monsters, and the Big N just can’t have that! So that means several popular Switch titles such as Splatoon 2 and Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee do not support cloud backups.

    Nintendo Life (correctly, in my opinion) called Nintendo out on this decision: Why should players who’ve spent hundreds of hours putting together the perfect gear sets or training the ultimate team of Pokémon be punished just so a small handful of players can’t game the system? Personally, I think save scumming is not the bogeyman some people make it out to be (why do I care if someone scums their way to an all-Ink-Save-Main Kensa Shirt, or an entire team of Mewtwos?), and while I get that incorrect ranks lead to unbalanced matches, why does Nintendo have to subscribe to an “all in or all out” philosophy? Why can’t we back up some data from a game (like our gear, level, and single-player progress in Splatoon 2) and either a) not back up ranks, or b) save that data on, say, a dedicated server? (With all those Andrew Jacksons Nintendo’s collecting, surely they can afford a decent mainframe.) It’s a solvable problem that Nintendo isn’t bothering to address, and for me, it means that most of the data I care about is still at risk. I’m paying for a service I’m not using, and I’m not happy about it.

  • Nintendo Smartphone App: This would make me laugh if I wasn’t so busy crying. Nintendo’s smartphone app serves a mere two purposes:
    • Facilitating voice chat in a handful of games (Mario KartARMSSplatoon, Mario Tennis, and the NES games) in the most convoluted manner possible.
    • Offering some out-of-band services for games, which boils down to Splatoon 2‘s SplatNet and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s Smash World.

    I can’t speak for Smash World, but SplatNet isn’t all that useful beyond buying a few pieces of gear so I can banish Respawn Punisher from my game forever. As for voice chat…frankly, as toxic as I’ve heard chats get in other games, I have no desire to open up that channel of vitriol to my ears. (If my teammates get mad at me now, the only place they can tell me to go is “This Way!”)

    Honestly, if Nintendo told me I could save a few bucks by renouncing the Switch app, I’d uninstall that sucker so fast you’d think I was wearing nothing but Run Speed Up gear.

  • Special Offers: In four months, all this has amounted to are these:
    WHAT ARE THOSE? …They’re the only giveaway we’ve gotten.

    In four months, we’ve gotten a grand total of two Splatoon gear pieces and some special offers on those minimally-useful NES Joy-Cons. Not exactly “getting our money’s worth,” huh?

Put it all together, and I’m just paying $20 just to do what I was doing before, and seeing little appreciable benefit for the price tag. I get that Nintendo has us over a barrel with their multiplayer offerings and they’re just doing what everyone else is doing, but there’s just something that feels unfair about the whole thing. (This is also why I like keeping the 3DS around: Not only is it at most half the price of a Switch, but there’s no yearly fee to trade Pokémon or find a good Scooby Doo Mii for Miitopia.) Until Nintendo shows us how us forced investment is making the gaming experience better for everyone, I’m going to be questioning my decision to buy in.

Is It Finally Time To Mothball The Nintendo 3DS?

There’s nothing new about this console anymore.

While it may not have the gaudy lifetime sales numbers of the Wii or DS, the Nintendo 3DS has carved out a nice little niche for itself in the annals of video game lore. Spanning the Wii, Wii U, and Switch eras, the plucky handheld overcame a rough debut to achieve the sort of longevity that most hardware only dreams of, amassing library of top-notch titles from Super Mario 3D Land to Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon, with many more greats in between.

All good things come to an end, however, and the recent software sales numbers coming out of Japan indicate that the end is nigh. Neither the recent Luigi’s Mansion remake nor the port of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story made much of a splash, leading the editors at Nintendo Life to declare that the time has come for Nintendo to set its aging handheld aside and go all-in on the Nintendo Switch. While I seem to be one of the few boosters of the 3DS left on the Internet, even I’m starting to wonder if the console’s clock has finally run out.

And yet…I’m not ready to go there yet.

When I discussed the 3DS’s future back in 2017, the main point I made was that the 3DS served as the perfect “gateway drug” into the Nintendo universe. The New Nintendo 2DS XL was half the price of the Switch, the hardware was hardened against the uncareful hands of small children, and the game library featured both quantity and quality, complete with solid entries from Nintendo’s biggest franchises from Mario and Zelda to Metroid and Pokémon. While the Switch was marketed as a ‘mature’ console for millenials that had grown up with Nintendo, the 3DS catered more to the company’s younger demographic, ensuring that Gen Z would have the same warm fuzzy feeling about Nintendo that their parents did.

Fast forward to 2019, and I still feel like these arguments hold a lot of water. While the economy itself seems to have improved, a general sense of economic anxiety still hovers over America like smog (especially now that some recession warning lights are starting to blink), making the price point argument from before feel even more poignant. (The resilience issue is no small matter either; who wants to shell out cash for a console that their kid will just break in two weeks?) Likewise, increased competition from smartphone games means that kids these days have lots of options, and if Nintendo doesn’t give them a cheap, easy way to experience their IPs, the company risks falling into the same trap as baseball and NASCAR, clinging to a shrinking, aging demographic while the next generation moves on to newer and more-exciting pursuits. The 3DS remains a great way to get Nintendo in front of peoples’ eyes in the wake of shrinking budgets and proliferating entertainment choices, and even if the sales numbers aren’t stellar, I would argue that the Switch’s success gives Nintendo enough leeway to keep lifeline to their future consumers open.

Okay Kyle, we get it: You’re a total 3DS homer. So what would it take for you to give up on the 3DS?

Well Mr. Anonymous Voice, apparently you weren’t listening! I just said that the “3DS served as the perfect ‘gateway drug’ into the Nintendo universe” and that it served as “a cheap, easy way to experience [Nintendo’s] IPs.” If the Big N found another way to do this, then I’d be perfectly okay with writing the 3DS’s eulogy. So how could Nintendo do it?

  • Release a 3DS-like version of the Switch. This quote from Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter (as reported by Nintendo Life) says it all:

    Nintendo will launch a fully handheld version of the Switch at $199.“I expect the device to have the same screen, but with Joy Cons built into the body and no docking station. Since it can’t “switch” from handheld to console, it’s hard to guess what they will call it, but let’s assume Game Boy (kidding).”

    $199 still feels a bit high, but it’s not too far off of the $169 number Nintendo initially had to drop the 3DS too to boost early sales. In any case, it’s a sizable drop from the Switch’s current $300 price tag. If such a Switch is built sturdily enough, it could fill the 3DS’s current role as a cheaper, more resilient way to play.

  • Expand on the company’s current mobile offerings. Right now, Nintendo’s smartphone lineup consists of PokémonMarioFire EmblemAnimal Crossing, and a new RPG called Dragalia Lost. That’s not bad, but even if we include the announced mobile version of Mario Kart, there’s still a lot of room for expansion here (Zelda, KirbyMetroid, etc.). If Nintendo were to ramp up their game releases for iOS and Android and keep prices at a reasonable level, smartphones are ubiquitous enough that they could serve as a kinda-sorta stand-in for the 3DS.

As of right now, however, I still believe the 3DS has a place in Nintendo’s  business plan, as it provides a way for the youngest among us to be entranced by Nintendo’s magic. The Game Boy and DS hold a special place in many gamers’ hearts today, and until Nintendo can find something else to fill this role, they’re better off keeping the 3DS around to do the job.

Why Does New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe Exist?

This might be the most “portly” of game ports in history.

Nintendo has been cannibalizing its Wii U library for the Switch for almost two years now, but their latest release is crazy even by those standards: An expanded rerelease of New Super Mario Bros. U, which itself was a slight remix of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which itself was a slight remix of New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS! The entire series has been criticized for years for its generic environments, low difficulty, and uninspiring gameplay, yet it has been surprisingly resilient despite its drawbacks, dutifully getting new(ish) iterations for every console generation while more-acclaimed franchises like Metroid and Pikmin are still sitting in the waiting room.

So why on earth is this happening? Does the Switch need a port from an already-stale franchise, making the game even less distinct than usual? The answer, unsurprisingly, is capitalism:

  • Despite their bland and formulaic reputation, these games sell. A lot. If you look at the lifetime sales of Mario games, the NSMB series stacks up unexpectedly well with its well-regarded brethren:
    Title Mario Sales Rank
    New Super Mario Bros. #2 (30.80 million)
    New Super Mario Bros. Wii #3 (30.22 million)
    New Super Mario Bros. 2 #7 (12.82 million)
    New Super Mario Bros. U #20 (5.77 million), #3 best-selling Wii U game
    New Super Luigi U #30 (3.04 million)

    “Bland and formulaic” they may be, but they’re also popular and profitable, even on less-popular consoles like the Wii U. In fact, that past performance is likely reason #1A that NSMBUD is coming: Nintendo’s probably staring at those NSMB Wii numbers and thinking NSMBU could do the same thing on a console with a decent install base.

  • On the other end, it’s not a massive development investment. Ports are generally cheaper to make than original titles, but this is an extreme example: Most of the assets can be reused from past games (Are the Peachette changes the only new visuals? …Oh wait, “the name of the map has a different banner design”), no new levels need to be created (there could be some extra levels added here, but none have been mentioned), and compared to something like, say, Super Mario Odyssey, the game is a much smaller project overall. Nintendo’s even saving on web development: The official game site is just the NSMBU site with a new header image and a few sentences (at least it references the Joy-Cons)!
  • The game fits perfectly into Nintendo’s overall Switch strategy. In my “top games” post last month, I noted that Nintendo seemed to be placing a lot of emphasis on local multiplayer, from Kirby Star Allies to Super Mario Party to even Mario Tennis Aces and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The New Super Mario Bros. series (at least on home consoles) fits this strategy perfectly: It’s multiplayer 2D platformer action mirrors that of Kirby Star Allies, although players tend to get in each other’s way more than anything. There’s no online functionality to speak of, and while you could play the game by yourself, my experience is that it’s way more fun with a few friends in tow. In other words, it could be the poster child for Nintendo’s releases over the last year.

So the game is cheaper to produce, has a high profitability ceiling, and could be the poster child for Nintendo’s strategy of Switch gaming. Perhaps the better question for this post is this: Why didn’t New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe exist sooner? Gamers may complain that the NSMB series is just the same reheated platforming released over and over again…but gamers also buy the NSMB games at absurdly-high rates, and as crazy as Nintendo can be sometimes, they’re not crazy enough to leave a Mario-sized pile of money on the table.

Song Review: Matthew Taranto, “Wa-Elegy (Waluigi’s Assist Trophy Song)”

Who says I don’t have any Smash Bros. coverage?

As a character, Waluigi is the Mario equivalent of NASCAR’s Michael McDowell: A field-filler who is only called upon to fill out the roster of Nintendo’s many Mario sports and party titles. Despite this (or perhaps because of this), the lanky villian has garnered a rabid following on the Internet, one that is all too willing to voice its displeasure at any perceived slight of their man. The latest incident occurred with the reveal of Waluigi as an Assist Trophy in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate rather than as a playable combatant, a move that pushed Netflix to “inquire” about the possibility of a documentary:

While some fans crossed the line with their attacks on Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai, Matthew Taranto, the creator of the Brawl In The Family webcomic, channeled his sadness in a manner that even Hank Williams Sr. could appreciate: He parodied Leonard Cohen’s famous “Hallelujah” song and wrote “Wa-Elegy,” a lament that captures the character’s frustration and sorrow at forever being excluded from this prestigious series. As parodies go, it’s not half-bad: Both the writing and the protagonist have their flaws, but overall it does a nice job harnessing the emotion behind the song and making it feel meaningful.

Cohen may have been the original writer, but the production here takes inspiration from the popular 1991 cover by John Cale, with its piano foundation and slightly-faster tempo. While Cale stuck exclusively to the piano, however, Taranto adds some background strings and a host of surprisingly-strong harmony vocals (more on this later), both of which help emphasize the somber overtones of the original song and connect the song more strongly with the listener. While one could quibble over the volume balance of the song (the vocals and the Inkling noises are a bit too loud for the mix), there’s really nothing “parody” about the sound, as it creates the exact same melancholic atmosphere as Cohen and Cale and would support the original lyrics just as well as the updated ones. Despite the kinda-sorta tongue-in-cheek nature of the tune, the production’s seriousness suggests that there’s a sad truth behind the story, and that even though Waluigi is a fictional character, he still deserves better than his field-filler fate. Even though I personally don’t buy into this theory, I can at least kinda-sorta sympathize with him for a few minutes.

Brawl In The Family may have ended its run, but after hearing Taranto on this track, I’d say he’s got a potential voice-acting career waiting for him if he wants it. His impression of Waluigi is one of the best I’ve heard, and being able to sing in that voice (to say nothing of harmonizing in it!) is no easy feat (even veterans of the industry can’t always do it: For example, in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, both Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie have separate voice actors for speaking and singing). Not only is the impression spot-on, but he manages to take a wholly unsympathetic villain (seriously, the dude just seems to be bad for no reason) and infuse enough personality into him to start to make you feel for the guy by the end of the song. (Jordan Davis, you should be taking notes right now.) Similarly, the harmonies are not only exceptional, but they add extra weight to the production and might well be the most important instrument in the mix. Taranto’s performance here is easily the best part of the song, and part of me thinks Nashville should be looking him up right now—I mean, could he be any worse than Michael F***ing Ray?

The lyrics contain Waluigi’s reaction to being left off the Smash Bros. Ultimate Roster, and this is where some of the cracks in the song begin to show. Because the track was intended to be a YouTube video, the lyrics don’t always make sense without the accompanying visuals (when Waluigi calls out “the nerd, the prude, the never-was, the always-nude,” you’d have no idea who he was talking about without the pictures). Some of the lines wind up a bit short of the meter, and even if it’s Waluigi’s catchphrase, using “waa” to fill in the gaps just feels lazy and ineffective. Still, the writing hits its marks most of the time, captures Waluigi’s trademark self-pity and general frustration, walks the line between seriousness and silliness with aplomb, and even raises some genuinely thought-provoking questions (Daisy’s usually in that field-filler role along with Waluigi; aside from being an easy adaptation from Peach, why would she chosen and not him?). In the end, the lyrics do enough to get their point across and leave enough hooks for Taranto to elevate them with his performance.

For what it is, “Wa-Elegy” is a solid song that captures the spirit of its inspiration while making a satirical statement of its own, causing the listener to laugh, think, and pay attention. It’s not particularly deep, but it’s surprisingly catchy and even a little moving, and Matthew Taranto acquits himself so well as a vocalist and producer that I’m surprised he hasn’t done more with music (beyond Waluigi songs and game soundtrack work, that is). From where I sit on my perch overlooking country music, I’d say any genre that gives significant airtime to Dylan Scott could make some room for someone with some actual talent.

Rating: 6/10. It’s not for everyone, but Nintendo fans will get a real kick out of it.

Kyle’s Top 5 “Games” of 2018

The TL;DR version of this post.

Wait…this is it?

When I started Kyle’s Korner back in 2016, I originally intended to devote a ton of coverage to my Nintendo obsession, reviewing and discussing the hottest games of the day. Fast forward to today, and I’m cranking out 100+ music reviews a year with an ever-shrinking sliver of time dedicated to gaming. The issue, of course, is financial: Songs can be listened to for free on YouTube, but most games require you to pony up a decent chunk of cash before you can try them out. This was the biggest issue I ran into in 2018: There just weren’t that many games that caught my eye and demanded that I open my wallet.

So what happened? The issue seems to be that Nintendo made some strategic decisions this year that did not match my playing style at all. Two in particular stand out:

  • Continued Wii U ports. Given the Wii U’s paltry sales numbers, Nintendo decided to keep milking the console’s game library to support the Switch. As a proud Wii U owner, however, that meant that a lot of Nintendo’s releases were either games I’d already played before (Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, next year’s New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe) or games I wasn’t interested enough to try out the first time around (Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze).
  •  Focus on local multiplayer. Nintendo’s new releases this year, on the other hand, seem to be primarily focused on multiplayer experiences. Unfortunately, their spotty track record with online play continues unbated: Super Mario Tennis Aces took several months to iron out the online kinks, Super Mario Party doesn’t have much of an online mode at all, and now Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is plagued by horrible input lag. Simply put, most of Nintendo’s multiplayer content, and even some of its single-player content (looking at you, Kirby Star Allies) is best enjoyed   by a bunch of friends sitting on the same couch. That’s all well and good, but when all your local gaming friends scattered to the wind over a decade ago as mine did, it doesn’t leave you with a whole lot.

What all this ranting boils down to is that I bought a whole three new games this year (on top of a few classic 3DS releases), which makes it really hard to put together a yearly Top 5 list! Thankfully, a small tweak to my usual rules to make DLC released this year eligible helps with both quantity and quality, and at least makes the list half-decent in the end.

But that’s enough rambling. Bring out the envelopes already!

#5: Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee (Nintendo Switch)

As much as I love Pokémon, I expected a lot more from its debut on the Switch. The game just lacked the level of polish I expect from a Nintendo first-party title: The performance issues I suffered through in Pokémon Moon were still present (and don’t even me started on the awful motion controls), features that didn’t match the game’s tone were included while others that did were restricted or omitted completely, and the online modes felt incredibly random (again, the game felt geared towards local multiplayer rather than online play).

The usual Pokémon charm is still here, and seeing battles in true HD was neat for a while, but after so many trips through the Kanto region, there just wasn’t enough here to keep my interest. I vastly preferred this summer’s Nuzlocke run of Pokémon FireRed over this title, and if it weren’t for the lack of games that were eligible for this list, I wouldn’t have included it here at all.

Image from IGN

#4: Donkey Kong Adventure, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Nintendo Switch)

I was a big fan of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and the Donkey Kong DLC offers a nice balance of “more of the same” and some crazy new twists that force you to rethink your tactics. This time around, the objectives are more varied, the enemies have some new tricks up their sleeve, and the characters are a bit more specialized than the all-around, throw-them-into-any-situation protagonists from the original game. Throw in a moderately-quirky story based around Rabbid Kong, and you’ve got a recipe for about 20 extra hours of engaging gameplay.

Its short duration and awkward character kits (for someone who has to up close and personal to do damage, DK is surprisingly squishy) keeps it from getting any higher on this year’s list, but mark my words: If you owned the original game, you’ll definitely enjoy this expansion pack.

Image from Eurogamer

#3: Octopath Traveler (Nintendo Switch)

As much as I liked Paper Mario: Color Splash and the G7 Pokémon games, I still felt like Nintendo was missing a truly classic RPG game, one that could take its place among the SNES-era giants like Final Fantasy and Super Mario RPG. With Square making its ballyhooed return to Nintendo hardware, my hope was that Octopath Traveler could be that game, and…well, it almost was.

There’s a lot to like about OT: The incredible character design (especially some of the villians), the variety of storylines (some surprisingly deep and dark, others a bit more happy or conventional)and above all the excellent combat system with its dual-class options and Boost Point system. While the difficulty jumps made grinding a necessity at times (H’annit’s final battle stood out as particularly nasty), grinding never felt like a chore or a burden thanks to the Boost and Break systems: You find your enemy’s weakness, and you pound the living heck out of it. All the elements are here to make this a truly classic RPG.

So why isn’t it one? Unfortunately, the game’s toughest foe was the peak-end rule: The peak was high, but the end was a real letdown. The game spent so much time weaving together the stories of the eight protagonists and hinting at some unifying themes that would bring everything together in one incredible climax, and then…nothing. Sure, if you look around hard enough and complete the right sidequests, you might eventually find a unifying fight and a boss rush full of lore, but hiding it behind a series of side quests and leaving players hanging after completing all eight storylines feels way more convoluted than it should have been. This poor design decision keeps it off of the RPG Mount Rushmore for me, and leaves the door open for two games to sneak by it and take this year’s crown.

Image from the Reno Gazette Journal

#2: Octo Expansion, Splatoon 2 (Nintendo Switch)

I’m a sucker for anything Splatoon 2, but even without its Octarian exterior this is be one of the most fun experiences I’ve had all year. While it’s just an extended single-player campaign at its core, Octo Expansion builds off of all the new mechanics introduced in the original game to create some memorable (and challenging) minigames.

These aren’t the large platforming levels from the Agent 4 campaign (though there are some levels like that, and they’re awesome). Instead, these are often shorter, skill-based challenges that use every weapon-based skill at your disposal to test your mettle. Think you defeat an Agent 4-era miniboss using only a baller? Are you good enough with a charger to play pool with a few 8 Balls? Can you avoid taking damage from enemy ink for an entire stage, dodge an unending wave of snipers and bowling balls for thirty seconds? If you want to beat them all, you’re going to have to take your game to a new level.

Of course, not all of the levels are winners: Some are incredibly tedious (do I really have to spend 20 minutes carving a figure out of boxes with a charger?), some are overly simple (playing Tic-Tac-Toe with 8 Balls? Really?), and some are teeth-grindingly ferocious (how many freaking Octolings do I have to fight off to protect this stupid orb?). Unlike Octopath Traveler, however, the ending is worth the payoff, as you have to platform your way up a tall tower (sometimes without a weapon at all!), defend yourself against the possessed protagonist from the original Splatoon, and eventually coat the head of a large human statue in ink to keep a sentient AI program from blowing up the world. Who has time to think about the Ruins of Hornburg when you’ve got fifteen seconds to find Marina’s last Hyperbomb?

Sadly, just as Splatoon 2 was upset by Miitopia on last year’s list, Octo Expansion is denied the top spot this year, beaten by a crazy fusion of genres that I never saw coming.

#1: Dragon Quest Builders

While I’m constantly in awe at some of the things people build in Minecraft, I’ve never had much of a taste for the game myself. I’ve enjoyed my past forays into Dragon Quest, however, so when Dragon Quest Builders came out, I thought “What the heck, I’ll give it a shot.” It was definitely the right call.

Yes, the combat system is clunkier than it should be, and certain features that are ripped straight from Minecraft don’t really serve a purpose. Don’t let the cutesy art style fool you, however: There’s a lot more of Octopath Traveler in here than you might think. The characters are alternatively humorous and heart-wrenching (and they’re always memorable), the story was excellent and dove into some really dark places (Chapter 2’s plague story, in which you end up having to slaughter some of the very villagers you saved an hour ago, was masterfully executed and might be the most a video game has moved me since I watch Aeris die in FF7), and the Builder is funnier than a silent protagonist has any right to be (who the heck talks back to an all-powerful deity?). The construction and RPG elements meshed surprisingly well (even if the fortress areas felt too constraining at times), and the end result was a final boss battle that was both hectic and exciting.

If I’m being real, I’m not even sure Dragon Quests Builders or anything else here makes my list at all if it comes out in 2017, and had I declared Pokémon Ultra Sun eligible for this list (it came out last year, but my review got pushed back to January), it would have been a no-doubt runaway #1. This year’s field is what it is, however, and DQB is the best among its 2018 competition.

2019 promises to bring some stronger contenders next time around (Yoshi’s Crafted WorldG8 PokémonLuigi’s Mansion 3, and even Dragon Quest Builders 2), but I’ll only say this: If Mario Maker 2 comes out, it’s automatically my #1 game, no questions asked. Please Nintendo, make this happen!